It is a few days after Christmas. You have customers in your jewelry store. Four men walk into your store in the middle of the afternoon. They are all wearing masks and hoodies. One of them starts spraying the customers and staff with something, and the victims double over, cover their faces, and start coughing. You are being robbed.
You’re armed. You step back and draw your firearm. The robbers see your gun pointed at them and they head for the door. You don’t shoot. You holster your weapon when they leave. You check on your staff and your customers, and then you call 911.
The news story doesn’t mention video surveillance cameras, but the police were able to identify the masked robbers very quickly. They arrested four of the five robbers. Three of the four had outstanding warrants for their arrest.
The robbers sprayed your customers with bear spray. You’re not charged with a crime.
This small business owner started his defense months before, if not years before, the day his attackers walked in the door. He recognized that a small jewelry store was a frequent target of crime. He went through the cumbersome process of buying a gun in California. It sounds like the store owner learned to carry his gun on his body and to carry his firearm concealed. He learned and practiced how to present his firearm from concealment. That way his hands knew what to do.
Our defender also studied the legal use of lethal force. That is important so we don’t waste precious time. It is no use having a quick draw if it takes us minutes to recognize a complex situation and then know what to do. Our defender had studied crime in his area. That let him recognize a robbery and know what actions were appropriate. He knew when to put his plan into action.
He did not see an immediate and lethal threat. Yes, he would have had an articulable reason to shoot if the robbers had moved towards him. He would have had a reason to shoot if the robbers had started to move the victims to another room. If the victims were in immediate and potentially lethal distress from the bear spray, then he would have been justified in pressing the trigger. He should have shot if he saw that any of the robbers were armed, even with hammers let alone firearms. According to the news story that didn’t happen. Instead, he stopped the robbery by having an armed defense.
Recognizing the difference between what our defender was legally justified in doing and what he had to do bought the defender some time. Those few seconds probably saved the robber’s lives.
He could shoot but didn’t have to.
Our defender was ready to use lethal force and shoot his attackers. In this case, the attackers stopped, turned, and ran. That is the rule rather than the exception. A recent survey reported that we pressed the trigger less than 20 percent of the time in armed defense. There may be many reasons for not shooting even though the gun is in our hands.
The use of lethal force may have been entirely justified, but perhaps innocent people were standing too close to the criminal for us to confidently take a shot. Maybe the robbers were standing in front of a glass window at the front of the store and our shot might have sent our bullet flying across the street. The law recognizes what we may do, but the particular circumstances of the attack dictate what we should do.
Our defender recognized that the robbers were running away. That means he didn’t need to shoot. It is good that he didn’t chase the robbers down the street, and that also indicates he’d thought about what to do ahead of time. (Remember the getaway driver who was waiting outside?) Instead of chasing the bad guys, the store owner checked on his customers and staff, and then called 911 for help.
In the calm of hindsight, it would also have been a good idea if the store owner had locked the doors until the police arrived. That lets us re-holster our firearm because the scene is safe and relatively secure. Maybe he did lock the doors but that simply wasn’t reported in the news.
You don’t think of things like this unless you practice, but ask everyone at the scene to call 911. That includes customers, staff, and any bystanders near your store who might have seen part of the robbery. Ask one of your co-workers to keep talking to the police dispatcher so you know when the police are about to arrive.
The news story doesn’t mention if the store owner had his permit to carry a concealed firearm in public. While the store was near Los Angeles, it was not in Los Angeles county. The store was in San Bernardino county and that sheriff issues concealed carry permits. The permit process is slower and more expensive than in many other states, but there are excellent reasons for a citizen to get a permit.
You may be able to carry inside your store without a permit, but you are often considered to be in a public space when you step outside to put up a sidewalk sign. You may be in public when you go out the back of your store to take a delivery or to carry out the trash. Going through the burdensome legal process of getting your permit identifies you as a law-abiding citizen. If you have to use your firearm in self-defense, then having your permit shows that you were the one who followed the rules all the time.
Now let’s look at the things we might want to do that were not mentioned in the news. If an armed defender is good, then several armed defenders would be better. Yes, you want your co-workers to get their permits and go armed at work.
Perhaps the simplest reason for everyone to have a permit is that your staff can arrive with their defensive firearm already in place. They never have to put the gun on or take the gun off at work. That is safer for everyone.
Criminals often plan to strike when the store is opening or closing. Having a permit and carrying in public means we can defend ourselves and other employees as we arrive at work and as we leave. We’re armed as we talk on the phone in the backroom, and as we come and go to lunch.
It is a poor defensive plan that leaves your co-workers unprotected, simply because the single designated defender was in the bathroom during the robbery.
There is a gray area with robbers using pepper spray or bear spray. Weapons of that type mean we can’t see. We are in pain and we are probably confused. We are severely limited in our ability to defend ourselves. Every advanced class I’ve taken said to not let yourself be moved from the scene of the robbery.
The only reason robbers move people out of the front of the store is that they are going to do something they don’t want others to witness. Don’t let that happen to you, your co-workers, or your customers. Talk to your co-workers. Have a safety plan at work and exercise that plan.
That safety plan should include pre-paid legal issuance, so call your lawyer when you hang up with 911.
-Rob Morse highlights the latest self-defense and other shootings of the week. See what went wrong, what went right, and what we can learn from real-life self-defense with a gun. Even the most justified self-defense shooting can go wrong, especially after the shot. Get the education, the training, and the liability coverage you and your family deserve.
About Rob Morse
Rob writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, at Second Call Defense, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob was an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.